x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Workers 'top priority' at Saadiyat Island

TDIC vows to protect labourers as Saadiyat Island's Construction Village is complete.

Saadiyat Construction Village can house up to 20,000 laborers and is comprised of four clusters of housing units.
Saadiyat Construction Village can house up to 20,000 laborers and is comprised of four clusters of housing units.

ABU DHABI // With the Construction Village project that houses a multitude of workers on Saadiyat Island now complete, the company overseeing the massive island development is keen to show that it will be looking after the labourers living there.

Protections for the rights of more than 10,000 labourers charged with Saadiyat Island's construction are being upgraded, the Tourism Development and Investment Company (TDIC) announced yesterday at the unveiling of the 40-hectare village.

The TDIC plans to expand its independent monitoring programme, which assesses labourers' rights and the welfare of workers at the island site. A dedicated monitoring consultant firm will be named by May.

The TDIC, which oversees Saadiyat's development, said workers' rights were a top priority.

"As the Saadiyat projects continue to grow, the appointment of a dedicated independent consultancy company is a natural enhancement of the current system," said Ali al Hammadi, the senior director of special projects and government relations at the company.

Saadiyat Island is the future home of Abu Dhabi branches of the Louvre and the Guggenheim museums and will eventually house an estimated 145,000 residents. It is expected to be completed by 2020.

The announcement comes two years after Human Rights Watch accused the company of exploiting migrant workers. Last year, 14 labourers went on strike and filed a lawsuit alleging they had not been paid for five months by a subcontractor.

A TDIC spokesman said all contractors and subcontractors were required to follow UAE law and the TDIC's Employment Practices Policy, which outlines protections related to health and safety, accommodation, insurance and wages.

The workers living on Saadiyat Island have fully settled into the Construction Village, a compound that has so far served approximately 11 million meals, houses more than 18 different nationalities and boasts a 32-team cricket league.

Four clusters that can lodge up to 5,000 workers each feature prayer halls, indoor and outdoor recreation facilities, barber shops, computer laboratories, libraries and cafeterias. The densest residence areas accommodate six workers per 24-square-metre room, with no more than eight people sharing a communal bathroom.

"This facility is practically it's own small city," said Mike Taylor, the key accounts general manager for Abu Dhabi National Hotels, which operates the village. "It really does have a community feel."

Theme nights, art competitions and sports are a large part of life in the village, the population of which is predominantly Indian. Construction began in 2008, and workers began living at the village in September 2009.

Sustainability was also a priority on Saadiyat Island, said Nicholas Sier, the senior project manager for delivery at TDIC. The facility features solar-powered hot water and lights, and wastewater is recycled for irrigation purposes.

"The Construction Village is unique in that we care about the worker, we care about the environment, and we're thinking long-term," said Mr Sier, who noted that the facility could be easily dismantled and transported off the island. A second phase of the village is possible, if more workers are needed.

jthomas@thenational.ae